Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Using the experience sampling method to evaluate the impact of art-making on well-being in everyday life

Holt, N, J


Profile Image

Nicola Holt
Associate Professor in Psychology


That involvement in the arts promotes well-being is well-documented (Camic, 2008). The current study aimed to contribute to burgeoning theoretical work on the psychological mechanisms by which artistic involvement might lead to well-being, by examining the impact of art making in daily life on the conscious experience of artists. The experience sampling method is a well-established and powerful protocol that is distinctive because it: samples experience at randomly selected epochs; does so on repeated occasions; and does so in a naturalistic setting. It offers clear advantages to the study of the arts and mental health, enabling the mapping of temporal dynamics and interactions between factors (such as art-making and emotions in everyday life). Using the experience sampling method 41 artists made reports on their conscious experience in everyday life over a week-long period, answering questions at random intervals that related to mood, cognition, state of consciousness and behaviour. This resulted in 2495 sampled experiences. Participants described themselves as in the process of art making 9.4% of the time (on 235 occasions). Multi-level modeling was used to examine the extent to which art-making predicted changes in conscious experience. Preliminary analyses suggested that art-making was associated with various cognitive, affective and state variables that may promote well-being. These included the flow state, a state of engagement and absorption (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996) and improved hedonic tone (being in a ‘happier mood’). Art-making was further associated with a paradoxical state of consciousness that included both vivid auditory and visual imagery, associated with daydreams, as well as strong attentional focus and clear, rational thinking. Interestingly, art-making was not associated with the reduction of negative mood, or with increased relaxation or calmness, nor did it predict momentary changes in ‘self-esteem’. In this sample of artists, these outcomes suggest that rather than promoting well-being by enabling catharsis, or reducing stress or negative affect, art-making led to engaged and positive states of consciousness. Such experiences are thought to be fundamental to ‘happiness’, and meaning in life, as defined by Selgman (2011), and are more likely under conditions which enable a balance between skills and challenges (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). An awareness of the conditions under which flow states are more likely might therefore be of practical use to arts and health practitioners. While the current study gives some insight into one mechanism by which art may promote well-being, the findings are limited by the sample of experiences included. A diverse range of artistic experiences were defined as being indicative of ‘art-making’ (including writing, sculpture, painting, dancing, etc.), domains which may be associated with unique routes to well-being. Further, there was a focus on cognitive and affective variables. Future research could employ the experience sampling method in specific contexts, potentially focusing on more diverse indices of well-being (including social factors and other factors relating to representations of self). The experience sampling method could also be adapted, in simplified form, for use as an evaluation tool. For example, elements of this approach have been used by the author in a recent evaluation of art workshops (Shine at MShed) (taking ‘snap shots’ of mood before and after workshops). -


Holt, N. J. (2017, June). Using the experience sampling method to evaluate the impact of art-making on well-being in everyday life. Paper presented at Culture, Health and Wellbeing Conference, Bristol, England

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Culture, Health and Wellbeing Conference
Conference Location Bristol, England
Start Date Jun 19, 2017
End Date Jun 21, 2017
Acceptance Date Apr 21, 2017
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Culture, Health and Wellbeing Conference